For the last couple of weeks, what with the Felt Q&A at Rough Trade, my continued enjoyment of the bookzine compiled and edited by the folks at foxtrotecholimatango.blogspot.com and the arrival of the very nice Felt book from www.firstthirdbooks.com I’ve been putting up a pretty much unedited Q&A with Lawrence, which was the product of a piece I wrote for Uncut magazine before Christmas. One of the subjects alluded to artfully in Paul Kelly’s Lawrence Of Belgravia film is that of Lawrence’s problem with addiction, which seem to have begun around the time of Denim’s demise.
I felt this was the sort of thing to bring up, if not to exactly press the point on. So, about an hour and forty minutes into the interview, as he talked about the end of Denim’s particular road, I did, and Lawrence, not angrily or with any side at all, simply said, “I don’t want to talk about that.” He may have added “…if that’s all right” because I do remember saying, “No, that’s fine.”
He liked the way the subject had been treated in the film, and suggested that equally, it was my job to handle it somehow, not his to explain it. I can’t quite face transcribing the exchange word for word, because, if I’m completely honest, I’m in no enormous rush to listen to it again. The interview didn’t, happily, end there, as I asked a bit more about Felt (which I have cut into the Felt part of this transcript, which can be found in earlier posts) and we talked a bit more about that.
We finished talking about twenty minutes afterwards, and I got up to leave. Lawrence, someone with no shortage of enthusiasms to expand on, said ,“Oh, are you going?” signed my record, gave me the notes he’d prepared for me and gave me a quick tour of his flat. A room with many shelves, housing his magazine collections (“Pared down to the absolute minimum,” he said, indicating several substantial stacks). Some pieces of cardboard with quotations ascribed to himself. This room, he said, will be his studio when it’s finished, and its transformation was chiefly the handiwork of a young man called Ralph, who appears in the film, and who in addition to his practical talents is, Lawrence says, “the world’s best drummer” and has played with Scritti Politti.
A detour into his hallway reveals his bookshelves (“all curved edges”), filled with vaguely esoteric cult lit and, on the way out, his records – again with some inessential items put to one side to sell. One of these is an album by The Butts Band. “It’s just total shit,” Lawrence explained. “How could you go from the Doors to this?”
Lawrence accompanied me to the lift and then out of the building, and on to the Hot Dog Streets…
You started Denim very quickly. How come?
The last year of Felt we were living in Brighton, my god, what a boring place. I thought, I’m dying here. I want to go to somewhere really dangerous and exciting. So I went to New York, and I didn’t know anyone apart from this one person, a photographer and she threw me out of the house after a week. Then I got the NME and it was all happening in London: Primal Scream were on Top Of The Pops, Stone Roses on the cover every week. I thought “What have I done? I’ve really messed up here.” I thought, “I won’t do anything for a year.”
After two weeks I bought a guitar and I was missing London and I started getting together this idea for a new band in about three months. I came back to London and we were off and running. It was started three months after Felt finished. I wrote Back In Denim in New York. I started thinking “London’s the place to be…” I was pining because I was in New York and I was lonely. No, I wasn’t lonely, I’ve never been lonely. But I started thinking about my childhood, and how I’d spent ten years and got me nowhere, and thought what a rubbish world that independent world was, and I wanted to go on a major label and be looked after, have a phalanx of people look after me. It had to be something that didn’t compete with Stone Roses and the LA’s. I couldn’t compete with that. I had to do something so alien, it couldn’t be judged next to what was happening at the time. I started thinking about the bands I used to love, and that’s where the whole thing came from…
By the time the record came out, the 70s were back in fashion, but when I thought of it, there was nothing. There was no Britpop bands – this was March/April, 1990. It was all about protesting against what I’d been through, done in the style of music I’d loved in more innocent times. The whole of the 80s.
We signed to the Boys Own label, as Andrew Weatherall wanted to have a rock band, because everyone would expect them to do dance. But their records were distributed through Pinnacle, like Cherry Red. We had a meeting and they said, “That’s it, a band that’s nothing to do with dance culture – that’s exactly what we’re looking for.” “All the majors wanted to have a boutique indie label, in the indie charts…” “I was like, no, I want to go through the whole major system.” We were a loss leader to make London look good.
Everyone who lived through those times, the 1970s, even though our electricity used to go off, and there was rubbish in the streets. The night of the pub bombings…it drew people together. Glam rock. Amazing times. I commented on all of it.
I wanted to wake the journalists up (with “The Great Pub Rock Revival”). I know I’m guilty of being retrospective but I did it for valid reasons, with a heart of gold. After that, everything was trying to be revived. I thought it was OK. Pub rock is such a horrible thing. I know…I throw my darts at the little things. But you can’t help what grabs your interest.
Someone said, come and see this band Pulp. I said, I’ve heard of them, they’ve been going ages, they’re crap. And the person said, “They’ve changed.” It blew my mind, I saw them at ULU, it was one of the best gigs of the 90s –when the bands started coming, it was great. I thought, we’d all help each other. Literary frontmen. We were all word men. I think more like “We’re all in this together, we can help each other when the time’s right…” Thye took us on an arena tour with them, which was great. I’ve never been bitter – it’s one of my strong points. Like when Primal Scream were on TOTP I thought, great now I can be on TOTP, I’ll ring Bobby up and ask “Can I just stand at the back and play a bongo?”
It ended with Summer Smash?
What a great way to end it. That band were dead in the water, but it couldn’t happen for a better reason, really. At the time it was horrible, I can’t really comment on it – it just happened. The signs were strong it could have been. I was watching the news and thought, “Blimey she’s dead” And on the Monday, we got the call – we’re not putting it out, and we’re incinerating them all”.
EMI wouldn’t touch us after that. They lost all interest and saw it as a good point to end it all – we were through EMIDISC, Bob Stanley’s label was coming to an end. They could have kept us on, but they kept Kenickie on instead. They chose the wrong band – they should have chosen me. I was going to make it – they weren’t. I’d lost the fight. If I was a boxer, I was knocked out, I was on the deck. The guy was counting ten and I wasn’t going to get up. I thought, I can’t do it any more. But it wasn’t long, only three months before I was doing the Go-Kart Mozart album.